It’s tomato season, and I am gleefully relishing the harvest of my husband’s COVID-19-inspired garden in our side yard. As I bite into a sandwich bejeweled with ruby-red tomato slices, I sigh happily and reflect that I will miss tomato season in the dead of February, when the grocery store offerings will be wan and lustreless in comparison.
In Beth Moore’s newest book, Chasing Vines, she makes an eloquent point about the slow-moving process of ripening, for produce and for humans:
“Have you ever wondered why God goes to the trouble of sanctifying us?” she writes. “He could instantly zap us into his image the moment we decide to follow Jesus, or he could transport us into heaven the moment of our conversion. Why would he opt for taking us through the long, drawn-out process of planting, watering, pruning, and harvesting? But sure enough, he rolls up his sleeves, puts palms to the dirt, and begins putting the pieces of our lives together in a way that matters.”
And then this master metaphor maker lays it down: “He’s not looking for store-bought tomatoes. He’s looking for the real thing, raised by his own hands, hard-won as it is.”
A ripe, garden tomato compared to a flavorless, watery lump of fruit is a superb word picture for sanctification and flourishing, but for most of the book, Moore roots herself not in the tomato vine but the grapevine as her metaphor.
Really? I thought. An entire book about the Bible’s references to vines and grapes and branches? Moore totally pulled it off, in part because the Bible is laden with the vine analogy. The metaphor spirals throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New, from Genesis to Psalms to Isaiah to John 15 and Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches.
Moore’s trip to the vineyards of Italy with her daughters is just one overarching story in the book, which includes in-depth research into viticulture (a new word for me, as much as I enjoy wine). What are the best growing conditions for growing grapes? What makes a branch sag with shiny, purple clusters, and what makes it wither and blow away?
The point of course is us—God’s image-bearers, humans he made with his two hands. How will we grow and flourish? How will we avoid becoming dried up and wasted away? “The English word ‘human’ literally means ‘a creature of earth,’ from the word humus, or ground,” she writes. God cultivates and tends to us like a vinedresser coaxes growth from his vines. Rooted, planted, uprooted, and grounded are all words used all over the Bible to describe us “creatures of the earth.”
This book was my first Beth Moore book. In the past, I thought she seemed nice and funny, but maybe not for me, maybe for someone a little more church lady-ish than me. But the way that woman has stood up to bullies on subjects of racial justice and #Churchtoo made me look at her in a new way. Humbled (also, she points out, from the word for “human”), I realized that I had been a bit of a dumb raisin—shriveled by my own sense of importance. I closed the last pages of this book alight with new insights, having laughed way more often than I would have thought in a devotional book, and having cried, too. I wanted to have coffee or Prosecco or a mug of tap water with Moore, or at least follow her on Twitter.
I reflected that God had used the book to nudge my growth, to show me that he wanted me to flourish and mature, to get taller and deeper in him, attached more securely to the Vine. I pondered the fact that God’s growth plans for his humus humans are never fast-tracked. “It’s a wonder that God would choose to slowly grow what he could have simply created grown,” Moore writes. “Why on earth would he go to the trouble to plant a garden forced to sprout rather than commanding it into existence, full bloom? Why leave his desk and get his pant legs soiled? Because God likes watching things grow.” In other words, we are not meant to be store-bought tomatoes. (Tyndale)